Public libraries provide an essential link between government and citizens. As government information, services, and resources become digital – in many cases, digital only – public libraries serve as critical community gateways to electronic government (E-government).
Public libraries provide a link between government and people. Libraries serve as community access points to tax information, citizenship and immigration services and resources, social services, health and health insurance information, emergency and disaster response, and more. As government information, services, and resources increasingly move to digital formats, public libraries are a bridge to E-government for their communities.
Key Issues and Challenges
At the same time that more government interactions are being converted to online services and there is more demand for libraries to serve as key links between government services and communities, library budgets are being cut, service hours reduced, and staff let go. Moreover, public libraries are being asked to help patrons solve a range of E-government challenges that go well beyond simply finding government information. In short, people expect public librarians to be experts in government generally, and in E-government services in particular.
This reliance on public libraries in turn leads to greater needs within the library. These needs include, but are not limited to:
- Financial. At a time of increased need and service demands, public libraries find their budgets cut and staff being reduced. In addition, E-government services require substantial public access technology and broadband availability. Increased funding for libraries is needed to increase the bandwidth of the library; allow for more staff to be hired; allow for more computers to be purchased; and provide training for the library staff to better serve their community in E-government services.
- Capacity. Many libraries must place time limits on their computers to allow as many people as possible access to them, and this creates challenges for successful E-government interactions. There is a need to consider the limitations and create new service models for E-government in libraries.
- Users. Not all E-government users are proficient in computing, and many lack basic understanding of government or government services. Facilitating successful E-government interactions places time demands on library staff.
- Staff. Adequate staff levels, staff expertise, and staff training to promote better integration with government agencies are three critical issues that need to be addressed so that public libraries can better meet community E-government needs.
- Infrastructure. E-government is a technology intensive undertaking that requires public access workstations, WiFi (if patrons happen to have their own technology), broadband, printing facilities, and work areas. Providing E-government in libraries puts stress on the physical plant in key areas of workspace, electricity, and more.
Though the above are the primary challenges public libraries face in providing E-government services to their communities, additional challenges exist with regard to usability, consistency, and design of government websites and services. E-government services vary greatly in terms of service, design, and website usability. At the same time, governments are increasing their use of social media technologies such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube, introducing a myriad of ways for patrons to interact with government agencies and services.
More details on this topic are available in our Public Libraries & E-government issue brief.